The June issue of Fast Company featured a fascinating profile of actor and activist Matt Damon and Water.org, the nonprofit he co-founded in 2009 with Gary White, formerly of WaterPartners. Water.org will likely raise $10 million this year, up from $4 million in 2010, and much of the group’s fundraising success goes back to its co-founder….when Matt Damon speaks, lots (and lots) of people listen.
The article generated thoughtful conversations around our office. As writer Ellen McGirt explained, Water.org is focused on water, sanitation and hygiene – issues that are “among the least glamorous of all support efforts.” Because Physicians for Peace focuses on educating and training healthcare professionals, rather than performing many dramatic surgeries, we also face a “glamour” challenge.
Like Water.org, we believe our approach empowers individuals to move themselves and their communities out of poverty through meaningful but incremental change. Unlike Water.org, we don’t have an articulate, Academy Award-winning spokesman to make the case on late-night TV for conferences on neonatal resuscitation in India or workshops on holistic burn care in Central America.
The question isn’t new. Many organizations benefit from the support of a well-known representative. Demi Moore and her husband, Ashton Kutcher, recently appeared on a panel announcing a United Nations-sponsored fund for victims of human trafficking. In June, a More magazine story detailed supermodel Christy Turlington Burns’ commitment to maternal and child health issues and CARE, an international relief organization. U2 front-man Bono has become a force for major change in Africa through ONE and his affiliation with groups like the Gates Foundation.
These are worthy causes and organizations but, for those of us who believe passionately in Physicians for Peace’s education-based model, the high-profile coverage celebrities generate for other groups can be frustrating.
If you’ve ever wondered why Physicians for Peace doesn’t have a celebrity spokesperson, the answer is, we want to have one. The challenge isn’t necessarily finding the right person to champion our cause – the real trick is connecting with the right people, the stars themselves, but also the philanthropic advisers who guide celebrities toward deserving causes. (For an enlightening read on the industry behind the coupling of celebrities and causes, read this New York Times’ story on philanthropic advisers.)
We do have some experience working with celebrities. In January 2010, for instance, the activist Heather Mills went on the “Larry King Live” show on behalf of our efforts in Haiti. And in 2009, Stephanie Schaeffer, winner of the sixth season of NBC’s “The Apprentice,” traveled to the Dominican Republic on our behalf as a celebrity spokesperson. What we’re looking for today, however, is a celebrity who can make a long-term commitment to our organization. A person, like Matt Damon or Christy Turlington Burns, who feels a personal connection to our kind of work.
If we can attract the right person to amplify our voice and help us reach a wider audience with our stories of empowerment, I personally believe that everyone in our global community stands to benefit.
NY TIMES STORY ON PHILANTHROPIC ADVISERS http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/05/fashion/05TREVORNEILSON.html
CHRISTY TURLINGTON BURNS’ ADVOCACY
ARTISTS FOR PEACE AND JUSTICE